Friday, April 26, 2013

Building a Trellis

Hop bines can grow to up to 20' tall, so building a trellis that can accommodate this growth is essential. (Hops are considered bines and not vines: vines use suckers to affix themselves whereas bines use stiff hairs to aid in upward growth)  Letting them grow up the side of your house, or laterally along a fence will work as well, but for the best results, a trellis is recommended. Dozens of examples and design plans can be found using your search engine of choice, but I decided to design my own. Commercial hop growers use a trellis that is between 15 and 20 feet tall. For my trellis system I decided to shoot for 15 feet. Harvesting hops from something at this height can be difficult and dangerous, so I wanted something that could be lowered easily. My simple design works similarly to how a radio antenna retracts. A smaller diameter tube is held up while positioned inside of a larger diameter tube. When the support rod and screws that hold up the top portion of the trellis are removed, the upper part of the trellis will collapse down within the larger tube -  making harvest easier and safer. Before building your trellis make sure you have suitable growing location picked out! You will want to set up your hop garden in an area that will get lots of sunlight. 

This is my semi-finished product. The large diameter 4" PVC pipe is driven about 3.5' into the ground, and the smaller 3" diameter pipe sits inside the base pipe. The upper portion is supported by a metal rod driven through the larger pipe. There is about 1.5 ft of overlap, and screws are driven in through both PVC pipes to keep everything from moving. At harvest time, the screws will be removed, then the support rod, and finally it can be collapsed down to a more manageable height. The T at the top can accommodate multiple bines growing up to it. 

Parts and tools needed

4"x10' PVC Pipe
3"x10' PVC Pipe
2"x10' PVC Pipe
3" PVC Male threaded adapter
3" PVC female threaded T
2, 3" to 2" PVC reducers
4, 4"x.25" clothes line hooks
PVC cleaner, primer, and glue
Circular saw or hacksaw or sawzall
.25 inch drill bit
wrenches to tighten clothes line hooks
6-12" metal rod
shovel or post hole digger
4, 2" screws
Roll of heavy gauge jute twine or metal wire

Part I: Building the top T section

For this section you will need the following:
3" female threaded T
2, 3" to 2" PVC reducers
2 small sections of the 3" PVC pipe
PVC cleaner/primer/glue

1. Cut two small sections (about 1.5-2 inches) of the 3" PVC pipe. These two sections will be glued on opposite sides of the T joint so that the 3" to 2" reducers can be attached. 

2. Glue the clean, prime, and clue the two sections cut in step 1. to the inside of the two non-threaded sides of the T. (the areas circled in red below are where the two sections of PVC are glued. there is enough overlap so that the reducers can be glued on. I had finished this portion of the construction prior to deciding to document it. oops.)
3. Clean, prime, and glue the two 3" to 2" reducers to the small part that is protruding out of the T (what you glued into the T in step 3.)

4.  Using the Dremel grind out the inside of the reducer so that the 2" PVC pipe can be slid all the way through the T part you created in steps 1-3.
5. Test to make sure you have ground out enough by sliding the 2" PVC pipe through the T constructed in parts 1-3. 
6. Remove the 2" PVC pipe from the T before moving onto the next step
7. Drill a .25" hole in the center of the T - You will be putting a clothesline hook here.
8. Using your Dremel or hack-saw, cut one of the clothes line hooks so that it will protrude into the inside of the T no more than .4"
9. Insert the shortened clothesline hook into the .25" hole you drilled in the T and fasten it with the provided nut.
10. Cut the 2" PVC pipe down to your desired length (this is the horizontal part at the top of the trellis) - I cut it to 6', but you could go longer or shorter
11. Slide the 2" section of PVC pipe into the piece you put together in steps 1-8.

12. Drill .25' holes through the 2" section of PVC equidistant from each other
13. Fasten the clothesline hooks into the holes you drilled in step 12

Part II: Attaching the 3" PVC Pipe

For this part you will need:
3" Diameter PVC pipe
3"male threaded cap/adaptor
the assembly created in Part I
PVC cleaner, primer, and glue

1. Take the the 3" male threaded cap/adaptor and glue it to one of the ends of the 3" PVC pipe.
2. Thread the 3" pipe into the top T assembly you made in Part I.

Part III: Getting it in the ground.

For this section you will need:
Post digger/shovel
The 4" diameter PVC Pipe
Drill and drill bit larger than the diameter of your 6-12" metal rod

1. Using the post digger or shovel, dig a 3-4 ft hole where you want to put your trellis (I shot for 4 ft but hit water at around 3.5)
2. Insert the 4" diameter PVC pipe into the hole
3. Make sure the pipe isn't crooked, and fill the hole back in (it will take a few days for the dirt to settle and make things really solid)

4. Drill a hole completely through the pipe 1.5 to 2 feet down from the top that will accommodate the 6-12" metal rod you have 

Part IV: Assembly
Once the dirt has settled out and the 4" pipe is solidly in the ground, you can assemble the trellis.

1. Insert the 6-12" metal rod into the the hole you made in step 4, above.

2. Attach lengths of your jute twine or metal wire long enough to reach the ground where you will plant your hops to the clothesline hooks on the upper part of the trellis
3. With the help of a friend lift the upper part of the trellis up and slide it into the larger 4" PVC pipe so that it sits on the metal rod

4. Due to the diameter difference of the upper and lower portions of the trellis, the upper portion will fit pretty loosely. To fix the upper portion in place, Drive 4 screws where the two pipes overlap.

Congrats- you now have a completed trellis with metal wire/twine hanging down from the clothesline hooks at the top of the trellis. The final step is to affix the hanging ends of the wire/twine to the ground- close to where you will plant your hops. I affixed the lengths of twine to the wooden frame of my garden. Another common method is to attach the twine/wire to a tent stake and drive it into the dirt close to where you will plant your hops. Stay tuned for Part III of Growing Hops at Home: Planting and Maintenance!


Friday, April 19, 2013

Growing Hops at Home Part I: Intro and Hop Selection

Growing hops in your own backyard is an excellent way to to make your homebrew truly unique. How many breweries will be able to say they used hops from the <insert your last name here> Backyard Hop Farm? The decision to grow your own hops, similarly to the decision to make your own beer, is not one driven by the bottom line. Growing your own hops will take time, energy, backyard space, and an initial monetary investment. It's much easier to just go buy them from your local homebrew supply shop, but growing your own has some advantages, and is far more rewarding. Besides the fact that you will get to raise the hop plants like your own little lupulin filled children, you will be able to use them in "wet hopped" beers. Wet hopping is the process of brewing beer with undried hops taken directly off the bine: something that can't be done with dried, store bought hops.

My Second Year Cascade Hops

Hops are an extremely resilient plant, so if you happen to lack a green thumb, you may still be good at growing hops. Hops need as much sunlight as possible, lots of water, and plenty of room to grow. If you provide the hops with these necessities, and choose a good hop type for your area, they will likely grow very well and eventually provide you with plenty of hops. When it comes to selecting a hop type to grow, I highly recommend choosing one that is known for its resiliency and is suitable for all climates. This way if your soil/climate conditions aren't perfect, you will still have a great chance of success. Another point to note is that you wont be able to tell the exact alpha acid content of the hops you grow, unless you send them off to a lab. So, to make things easier, I recommend planting aroma, or dual purpose hops. Using your hops for late additions will really let you appreciate the aromas and flavors of your hops. You won't have to worry about your bitterness calculations being off, and you will get more out of your hard work than just hop bitterness.

I have had excellent success with Cascades, and have two plants currently in their third year. They produce a great amount of hops and their resiliency is second to none. They even survived being under a few feet of salt water thanks to hurricane Sandy. To help you further in selecting what hop varieties to grow I have provided links to two very helpful guides. These will help you narrow down your hop selection based on your climate and disease susceptibility. The first is a very detailed comparison table put together by sweetcell from It details preferred climates, and disease/pest susceptibility for each variety.
sweetcell's Hop Grower's Comparison Table
The second table is a more simplified list by
American Brewmaster Growing Hops

At this point you've probably narrowed your choices down quite a bit to hops that are suitable for your climate (or any climate) and to either aroma or dual purpose type hops. The final step is to pick a hop that you enjoy using. Once you've selected what variety(s) of hops you would like to grow, you will need to get your hands on the hop plants themselves. Most homebrew shops will let you order/pre-order hop rhizomes (piece of root that you put in the ground) towards the end of winter. They are usually shipped in beginning to mid April. While you are waiting for them to arrive, be sure to prepare an area for planting and build a trellis.
The posts below will guide you through the rest of the process.

Growing Hops at Home Part II: Building a Trellis
Growing Hops at Home Part III: Planting and Maintenance
Growing Hops at Home Part IV: Harvest and Storage